Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide


Ameiurus natalis



Ameiurus natalis


  • Last modified
  • 14 November 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Ameiurus natalis
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Metazoa
  •     Phylum: Chordata
  •       Subphylum: Vertebrata
  •         Class: Actinopterygii
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • A. natalis, a species of bullhead catfish, is native throughout most of the eastern and central USA and south eastern Canada. Numerous introductions outside of its native range have occurred both accidentally a...

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Ameiurus natalis (yellow bullhead, yellow catfish); artwork of adult fish.
CaptionAmeiurus natalis (yellow bullhead, yellow catfish); artwork of adult fish.
CopyrightReleased into the Public Domain by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service/National Digital Library - Original artwork by Duane Raver Jr.
Ameiurus natalis (yellow bullhead, yellow catfish); artwork of adult fish.
AdultAmeiurus natalis (yellow bullhead, yellow catfish); artwork of adult fish.Released into the Public Domain by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service/National Digital Library - Original artwork by Duane Raver Jr.


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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Ameiurus natalis Lesueur 1819

Other Scientific Names

  • Ictalurus natalis Lesueur
  • Pimelodus natalis Lesueur

International Common Names

  • English: butter cat; greaser; Mississippi bullhead; mudcat; northern yellow bullhead; pollywog; white-whiskered bullhead; yellow cat; yellow catfish

Local Common Names

  • Denmark: gul dværgmalle
  • Finland: keltapiikkimonni
  • France: barbotte jaune
  • Germany: gelber katzenwels
  • Italy: pesce gatto
  • Spain: bagre torito amarillo

Summary of Invasiveness

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A. natalis, a species of bullhead catfish, is native throughout most of the eastern and central USA and south eastern Canada. Numerous introductions outside of its native range have occurred both accidentally and intentionally. The main impacts associated with introduction of this species are modifications to the water clarity due to the benthic foraging behaviour, predation and competition with other native fish species.

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Metazoa
  •         Phylum: Chordata
  •             Subphylum: Vertebrata
  •                 Class: Actinopterygii
  •                     Order: Siluriformes
  •                         Family: Ictaluridae
  •                             Genus: Ameiurus
  •                                 Species: Ameiurus natalis

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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A. natalis is a species of bullhead catfish.

Ameiurus, Greek, meaning “privative curtailed,” in reference to the caudal fin lacking a notch; natalis, Latin, meaning “having large buttocks” (Simon and Wallus, 2004) and is possibly referring to the swollen nuchal region in spawning males (Holm et al., 2010).


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A. natalis are typically olive or yellow/brown on top with a yellow or cream underside. They have white or yellow chin barbels, which differentiates them from other species of bullhead. The anal fin is long and fairly straight in outline, with 24-27 rays. The rays at the front of the anal fin are slightly longer than those at the rear. There are 5-8 barbs on the rear edge of the pectoral spines, making them moderately serrated. The caudal fin edge is rounded or truncate (almost straight). The fins are dusky and the anal fin commonly has a dusky stripe in the middle. The dorsal fin base lacks the dark blotch found in some other species of Ameiurus. The first gill arch has 13-15 rakers.


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The native range of the A. natalis is the Atlantic and Gulf Slope drainages from New York to northern Mexico and the St. Lawrence-Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins from southern Quebec west to central North Dakota (Koel and Peterka, 1994; Stewart and Watkinson 2004) and south to the Gulf of Mexico (Scott and Crossman, 1973). A. natalis has been introduced into at least 14 states in the USA outside of its native range (Fuller et al., 1999), in addition to southwestern British Columbia (Hanke et al., 2006). A. natalis is present only in southern-most Quebec, and southern Ontario.

There are a number of reports of its introduction into Italy (Welcomme, 1988; Holcík, 1991) however according to Kottelat and Frayhoff (2007) there is no reliable evidence for this.

There is some disagreement with regards to the status of this species in New Hampshire. A. natalis has been recorded as native (Scarola, 1973; Scott and Crossman, 1973; Schmidt, 1986) but also as introduced (USDA NAS, 2015).

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes


Middle EastKoel and Peterka, 1994

North America

CanadaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-British ColumbiaHanke et al., 2006; McPhail, 2007
-OntarioPresentNativeScott and Crossman, 1973Present in southern provinces of Ontario
-QuebecPresentNativeScott and Crossman, 1973Present in southern-most provinces in Quebec
MexicoLocalisedIntroducedFAO, 1997; Miller et al., 2005
USAPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-ArizonaPresentIntroducedMiller and Lowe, 1967; Minckley, 1973; Wydoski and Whitney, 1979; Deacon and Williams, 1984; Tilmant, 1999; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2005; USGS, 2015
-CaliforniaPresentIntroducedMoyle, 1976; Wydoski and Whitney, 1979; USGS, 2015
-ColoradoPresentIntroducedZuckerman and Behnke, 1986; USGS, 2015
-ConnecticutPresentIntroducedWhitworth, 1996; USGS, 2015
-DelawareWidespreadNativeScott and Crossman, 1973
-FloridaWidespreadNativeLoftus and Kushlan, 1987; Page and Burr, 1991
-IdahoPresentIntroducedIdaho Department of Fish and Game, 1996; USGS, 2015
-IllinoisWidespreadNativeScott and Crossman, 1973
-IndianaWidespreadNativeScott and Crossman, 1973
-KansasWidespreadNativeScott and Crossman, 1973
-MarylandWidespreadNativeScott and Crossman, 1973
-MassachusettsPresentIntroducedHartel, 1992; USGS, 2015
-MichiganWidespreadNativeScott and Crossman, 1973
-MinnesotaWidespreadNativeScott and Crossman, 1973; Koel and Peterka, 1994
-MississippiWidespreadNativeScott and Crossman, 1973
-MissouriWidespreadNativeScott and Crossman, 1973
-MontanaPresentIntroducedBrown, 1971; Holton, 1990; Tilmant, 1999; USGS, 2015
-NebraskaWidespreadNativeScott and Crossman, 1973
-NevadaPresentIntroducedDeacon and Williams, 1984; USGS, 2015
-New HampshireWidespreadScarola, 1973; Scott and Crossman, 1973; Schmidt, 1986; USGS, 2015Recorded as both introduced and native
-New JerseyWidespreadNativeScott and Crossman, 1973
-New MexicoPresentIntroducedKoster, 1957; Sublette et al., 1990; Platania, 1991; USGS, 2015
-New YorkWidespreadNativeScott and Crossman, 1973
-North DakotaWidespreadNativeScott and Crossman, 1973; Scott and Crossman, 1973
-OhioWidespreadNativeScott and Crossman, 1973
-OklahomaWidespreadNativeScott and Crossman, 1973
-OregonPresentIntroducedSigler and Sigler, 1996; Tilmant, 1999; USGS, 2015
-South CarolinaWidespreadNativeScott and Crossman, 1973
-South DakotaWidespreadNativeScott and Crossman, 1973
-TennesseeWidespreadNativeScott and Crossman, 1973
-TexasWidespreadNativeScott and Crossman, 1973
-VirginiaPresentIntroducedJenkins, 2006; USGS, 2015
-WashingtonPresentIntroducedLampman, 1946; Tilmant, 1999; USGS, 2015
-West VirginiaPresentIntroducedScott and Crossman, 1973; Burkhead et al., 1980; Stauffer et al., 1995; USGS, 2015
-WisconsinWidespreadNativeBecker, 1983; Hocutt et al., 1986; Jenkins, 2006; USGS, 2015

History of Introduction and Spread

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The reasons for the introduction of A. natalis are under some deliberation but it is thought that this species has been intentionally stocked. A. natalis is considered of minor importance as a gamefish, but sought after for food. Intentional stocking has been reported as this species can be introduced into degraded watercourse due to their high tolerance to pollution (Klossner, 2005).

In Washington State, the first introduction of A. natalis was probably in 1905 in the lower Columbia River, when display fish were released following the Lewis and Clark 100-year exposition in Portland (Wydoski and Whitney, 2003). In British Columbia a single fish was found in Silvermere Lake in July 2005 (Hanke et al., 2006). It is likely to have been introduced accidentally with a shipment of largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) (Hanke et al., 2006). A. natalis has been introduced into Mexico as an aquaculture species (FAO, 1997).

There are reports of A. natalis being introduced into Italy in 1906 (Welcome, 1988; Holcík, 1991) however more recently this has been disputed due to a lack of reliable evidence (Kottelat and Frayhoff, 2007).

Risk of Introduction

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A. natalis is easy to identifty in shipments of tropical fish and fish to be stocked for anglers and is therefore unlikely to be accidentially introduced into new areas. Internationally this species is not very popular although it is possible that it may be used in aquaculture in the future and intentionally introduced into warmer climates overseas (G. Hanke, personal communication, Royal BC Museum, Canada, 2015).


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A. natalis is a bottom dweller and typically occurs in slow currents in shallow, soft-bottomed, weedy parts of clear warm lakes, ponds, reservoirs, or slow-moving streams or canals (Scott and Crossman, 1973). They may also be found in water with swift currents and can tolerate high levels of pollution (Jenkins, 2006).

Habitat List

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Irrigation channels Present, no further details Natural
Lakes Present, no further details Natural
Reservoirs Present, no further details Natural
Rivers / streams Present, no further details Natural
Ponds Present, no further details Natural

Biology and Ecology

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A. natalis has a diploid (2n) chromosome number of 62 and haploid/gametic number of 31 (Clark and Mathis, 1982). Hybridization with A. melas and A. nebulosus is rare.

Reproductive Biology

Spawning takes place in the spring and early summer. Both males and female A. natalis help build saucer-shaped nests in spots sheltered by vegetation, logs, rocks, or overhanging banks; occasionally nests are built in hollow stumps or natural cavities near submerged cover (Adams and Hankinson, 1926). Female’s lay anywhere from 300-10,000 eggs and a nest may support up to 700 eggs. It is therefore likely that females spawn more than once in a season. The females then guard the eggs for the first few days, and then both males and females aerate the developing eggs with their fins. Eggs hatch five to ten days after fertilization (Jenkins, 2006). Once hatched the fry are guarded by both male and female for about two weeks. Males guard their offspring until mid-to late summer when the young reach about 50 mm (Holm et al., 2010). Young A. natalis swim in compact schools early in their first summer and disperse later in the year. A. natalis reach sexual maturity between the ages of two to three.

Physiology and Phenology

A. natalis is able to withstand extremely low oxygen levels (0.1-0.3 ppm), has a wide tolerance of temperatures and is able to “hibernate” which allows it to survive serious winterkill conditions within northern sections of its native range (Cooper and Washburn, 1949). It has also been reported that A. natalis can survive out of water for a number of hours.


The average lifespan of A. natalis is around four years (Altman and Dittmer, 1962) however fish of up to seven years have been recorded. They can reach a size of 45.7-48.3 cm in length and weigh up to 3.2 kg (Jenkins, 2006).

Activity Patterns

A. natalis are fairly sedentary (Ball, 1944; Shoemaker, 1952). Tagged specimens in a ten acre lake were found to have travelled within a 91 m area from the point of release (Ball, 1944). In streams there is a tendency to travel greater distances upstream than downstream (Funk, 1955). Adult A. natalis are nocturnal and lie quiescent in weed beds or under cover during the day.


A. natalis are adaptive opportunistic eaters, consuming whatever is edible within their environment. They are omnivores consuming both plant and animal material. A. natalis locate most of its food via chemical sensory organs and have been observed eating crayfish, snails, insect larvae, other fish and plant matter. With this variability within their diet, food sources range between geographical locations and the type of water body. A. natalis is a social species and feeds primarily at night (Klossner, 2005). Since they are nocturnal, vision is not the primary sense when locating food. As with other bullhead catfish, A. natalis has barbels which act as an external tongue, with around 20,000 taste buds. These barbels are also used for locating food (Jenkins, 2006). 


A. natalis are known to be a host species for creepers (Strophitus undulatus) and are also parasitized by leeches (Hirudinea) (Gray et al., 2001). They are known to host the larval stage (glochidia) of the clam Anodonta grandis [Pyganodon grandis] (Hart and Fuller, 1974).

A study of parasites of A. natalis in Texas by Mayberry et al. (2000) found the following: Cestoda: Proteocephalidae, Proteocephalus ambloplitis; Trematoda: Alloglossidium kenti, Cleidodiscus pricei, Phyllodistomum caudatum, Posthodiplostomum minimum, Gyrodactylus; Nemata: Spinectus carolini [Spinitectus carolini], Spinectus microcantus [Spinitectus microcanthus], Spyroxis contorta.

Environmental Requirements

A. natalis can tolerate acidic waters with low oxygen and high carbon dioxide levels. In addition to ths it is eurythermal, ranging from southern Canada to northern Mexico.

Natural Food Sources

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Food SourceFood Source DatasheetLife StageContribution to Total Food Intake (%)Details
Benthic algae/weeds Adult/Fry
Benthic crustaceans Adult/Fry
Detritus Adult/Fry
Fish Adult/Fry
Mayflies Adult/Fry
Molluscs Adult/Fry
Shrimp/prawns Adult/Fry
Worms Adult/Fry
Zoobenthos Adult/Fry


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Cf - Warm temperate climate, wet all year Tolerated Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, wet all year
Cs - Warm temperate climate with dry summer Preferred Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry summers
Cw - Warm temperate climate with dry winter Preferred Warm temperate climate with dry winter (Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry winters)
Df - Continental climate, wet all year Preferred Continental climate, wet all year (Warm average temp. > 10°C, coldest month < 0°C, wet all year)
Ds - Continental climate with dry summer Preferred Continental climate with dry summer (Warm average temp. > 10°C, coldest month < 0°C, dry summers)
Dw - Continental climate with dry winter Preferred Continental climate with dry winter (Warm average temp. > 10°C, coldest month < 0°C, dry winters)

Latitude/Altitude Ranges

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Latitude North (°N)Latitude South (°S)Altitude Lower (m)Altitude Upper (m)

Water Tolerances

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ParameterMinimum ValueMaximum ValueTypical ValueStatusLife StageNotes
Dissolved oxygen (mg/l) 0.1-0.3 Harmful
Salinity (part per thousand) Harmful Intolerant of high salinity
Water pH (pH) 6.0-7.5 Harmful
Water temperature (ºC temperature) 28.4 Optimum 39.8 ± 0.92°C lethal

Natural enemies

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Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Lepomis macrochirus Predator Fry not specific
Micropterus dolomieu Predator Fry not specific
Micropterus salmoides Predator Fry not specific
Pomoxis nigromaculatus Predator Fry not specific
Sander canadensis Predator Fry not specific
Sander vitreus Predator Fry not specific

Notes on Natural Enemies

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Several natural enemies of A. natalis have been reported in its native range; however, by virtue of their strong pectoral and dorsal spines, adults are well protected from predation by all but the largest fish predators (Scott and Crossman, 1973). Members of the pike family (Esox species), walleye (Sandervitreus), large wading birds and some turtles may feed on adults (Scott and Crossman, 1973). Species of Alligator may eat larger adults.

Juvenile spines are less robust making them more susceptible to predation by fishes with a wider range in size. Within its native range, predators of juveniles include Micropterus salmoides, M. dolomieuSander canadensis, species of Ambloplites and Pomoxis including Pomoxis nigromaculatus and other catfish as well as aquatic invertebrates, leeches and crayfish. The eggs and small fry are predated by Lepomis macrochirus and other species of Lepomis.

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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Natural Dispersal

A. natalis are sedentary fish which may disperse naturally over short distances.

Accidental Introduction

Accidental introductions have been reported via ecapees from garden ponds and aquaculture facilities during floods.

Intentional Introduction

A. natalis have been intentionally introduced in new waterways by several pathways, including releases from aquariums and intentional stocking in open waters for food and game fish.

Impact Summary

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Economic/livelihood Positive
Environment (generally) None

Economic Impact

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A. natalis is considered good to eat and may be sought by some fishermen. 

Environmental Impact

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Impact on Habitats

A. natalis are responsible for the muddying of the water in their search for food which may alter ecosystems. It has been suggested that this action makes it difficult for visual predators such as centrarchids to find food.

Impact on Biodiversity

A. natalis has a negative impact on native species decreasing both the abundance and diversity of species in an area (Hughes and Herlihy, 2012). A. nataslis is partially responsible for the decline of the Chiricahua leopard frog (Rana chiricahuensis) in southeastern Arizona (Rosen et al., 1995; Fuller et al., 1999).

Since A. natalis have few predators, are able to survive harsh environmental conditions and have a high reproductive rate they are often the only species in small, shallow lakes and can quickly overpopulate these bodies of water.

Threatened Species

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Threatened SpeciesConservation StatusWhere ThreatenedMechanismReferencesNotes
Gila nigra (headwater chub)NT (IUCN red list: Near threatened) NT (IUCN red list: Near threatened)Arizona; New MexicoPredationUS Fish and Wildlife Service, 2013a
Gila robusta (roundtail chub)NT (IUCN red list: Near threatened) NT (IUCN red list: Near threatened)Arizona; California; NevadaPredationUS Fish and Wildlife Service, 2013b
Lepidomeda vittata (Little Colorado spinedace)EN (IUCN red list: Endangered) EN (IUCN red list: Endangered); USA ESA listing as threatened species USA ESA listing as threatened speciesArizonaCompetition (unspecified); PredationUS Fish and Wildlife Service, 2008

Risk and Impact Factors

Top of page Invasiveness
  • Has a broad native range
  • Abundant in its native range
  • Highly adaptable to different environments
  • Is a habitat generalist
  • Capable of securing and ingesting a wide range of food
  • Highly mobile locally
Impact outcomes
  • Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
  • Modification of natural benthic communities
  • Negatively impacts aquaculture/fisheries
  • Negatively impacts tourism
  • Reduced amenity values
  • Reduced native biodiversity
  • Threat to/ loss of native species
Impact mechanisms
  • Competition
  • Predation


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Economic Value

A. natalis is of low economic importance as a food fish, stocking into ponds, aquaculture and commercial aquarium trade. A. natalis is extensively used as a laboratory animal for toxic chemicals and medical experiments.

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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A. natalis is similar to the black bullhead, A. melas and brown bullhead, A, nebulosus. A. natalis can be distinguished from these species by its cream-white chin barbels. A. melas has dusky or black chin barbels, a rounded anal fin and fewer anal rays (19-23) and rakers on the first gill arch (15-21). A.nebulosus, is usually mottled on the side of the body, has dusky or black chin barbels and fewer anal rays (19-23).

Prevention and Control

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Due to the variable regulations around (de)registration of pesticides, your national list of registered pesticides or relevant authority should be consulted to determine which products are legally allowed for use in your country when considering chemical control. Pesticides should always be used in a lawful manner, consistent with the product's label.


Public Awareness

Public awareness is essential for this species to prevent misidentification of this species with A. melas and A. nebulosus. Public awareness is important to prevent establishment of new populations and to prevent further illegal introductions of this species.


Physical/Mechanical Control

Open season fishing for A. natalis is possible and fish can be readily caught using a regular line, by lectrofishing or a beach seine. Targeted removal of the young-of-the-year when in tight schools would limit the impact this species has on the habitat.

Chemical Control

Chemicals such as rotenone can be applied at a concentration of three parts per million to remove A. natalis but will also elimate any other fish which you may want to protect.

Gaps in Knowledge/Research Needs

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There is a lack of information on both the current and potential impacts of A. natalis in its introduced range.


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12/02/2015 Original text by:

Michael Godard, consultant, Canada

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